Grocery Tax Repeal Saga Ends with Veto by Governor Otter—Or Does It?
The most compelling story of the 2017 legislative session came to a dramatic conclusion as Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter vetoed the grocery tax repeal bill—House Bill 67—because of the fiscal impact to the state and the possible hit to education funding.
Tax relief is usually one of the most challenging policy areas that the Idaho Legislature faces. Because of the constitutional mandate that revenue measures must begin in the House, it is not unusual for the House to pass tax relief bills only to see them die or be substantially amended in the Senate.
The process of amending a bill to replace the provisions with something completely different is known as radiator capping: usually the Senate takes off the radiator cap of a House-passed tax relief bill and puts an entirely new car (bill) underneath it.
For the past several years, House leadership has aggressively advocated for bills lowering personal and corporate income tax rates, only to see those bills die in the Senate. This session, the House resumed this course by passing House Bill 67, which would have lowered individual and corporate income tax rates. The bill passed the House by a wide margin, 58-11-1, and then was sent to the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee.
The bill languished without a hearing for over a month, but in mid-March it looked like House and Senate leadership were finally singing from the same hymnal. The committee would send the bill to the amending order to scale back the size of the income tax cuts from $50 million to $30 million to make them more manageable from a budgeting perspective. House and Senate leadership agreed and it seemed to be a done deal.
When bills are sent to the amending order that allows any legislator to propose any amendments that they desire, which is one of the reasons why legislators prefer to avoid the amending order with complicated or controversial bills. Sending House Bill 67 to the Senate amending order provided the critical opening for advocates of repealing the sales tax on groceries.
A groundswell of public support has been steadily building over the past several years in favor of repealing the sales tax on groceries, but supporters found that even getting legislation introduced was challenging.
After failing to get a bill introduced this session in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, a group of legislators held a press conference on March 2 announcing that 48 cosponsors—a majority of the majority caucuses in the House and Senate—had signed on to support a grocery tax repeal bill.
“This is about fair tax policy,” said Sen. Abby Lee of Fruitland. “This is about whether we should be taxing our families providing bread and milk for their children.”
The legislators who cosponsored the grocery tax repeal bill included Democrats and Republicans, and folks of just about every ideological perspective represented in the Legislature.
House Bill 67 being sent to the Senate amending order was the break that grocery tax repeal advocates needed to finally get a bill in play.
The fate of the bill came down to a dramatic showdown in the Senate amending order with competing amendments offered by Senate leadership and the grocery tax repeal proponents led by Sen. Cliff Bayer of Meridian. The grocery tax repeal won the day and House Bill 67 was radiator capped.
As the dust settled and people had the opportunity to review the amended bill, it became clear that the bill needed further changes to protect local government revenue sharing from taking a significant hit once the grocery tax was repealed. The potential hit to revenue sharing was estimated at $26 million when fully implemented.
“We respect legislators’ desire to provide tax relief in a way that looks out for the most vulnerable members of our society, but it is important that this tax relief be done in such a way that cities are not forced to cut police or fire protection, or raise property taxes,” said AIC Executive Director Seth Grigg in a letter to the members of the Idaho Senate.
Sen. Bayer was quick to recognize the problem and asked that the bill go back through the amending order to ensure that revenue sharing was fully protected. This allowed AIC to withdraw our opposition to the bill and take a neutral position.
House Bill 67, now having been amended twice in the Senate, was now ready for floor consideration in the Senate and passed by a vote of 25-10-0.
The bill was then sent back to the House for concurrence on the Senate amendments. The House passed the bill by a vote of 51-19-0, and the bill was sent to Governor Otter. The Governor vetoed the bill after the legislature adjourned, which prevents any possibility of a veto override by the Legislature.
Otter’s veto message articulates the importance of the grocery tax as a stable source of revenue during economic downturns and the dangers of relying on more economically volatile revenue sources to support education and other state general fund programs.
“The income derived from a tax on groceries helps to even out the more dramatic ups and downs in our State revenue stream so that government avoids disruptive and dysfunctional shortfalls and funding holdbacks needed to balance the budget.”
The Governor went on to explain his argument in greater detail, which was outlined in a letter to legislators during consideration of House Bill 67.
“The State will return approximately $149 million to Idaho taxpayers through the grocery tax credit in fiscal 2019 starting on July 1, 2018, when House Bill 67 would become effective.”
“Removing the sales tax on groceries would reduce the State’s General Fund revenue by over $201 million in fiscal 2019.”
“Provisions in House Bill 67 to keep local units of government from losing any revenue sharing money as a result of the change would reduce the State’s General Fund by another $26 million.”
“Overall, the General Fund would be reduced by almost $80 million in fiscal 2019 alone, making it all the more difficult to meet our commitments to improving Idaho’s education system.”
“…I understand that House Bill 67 has captured the popular imagination. It purports to provide tax relief for the working poor—a worthy ambition, but one already accomplished through the grocery tax credit. The truth is this bill’s benefits are largely imaginary while the downsides are many and very real. The job of all of us who represent and serve the people of Idaho is to do what’s right, not necessarily what’s popular. It’s wonderful when the two align. In this case, unfortunately, they do not.”
Governor Otter’s veto was not the final word on the matter, however. Last week, Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls; Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg; and former congressional candidate Bryan Smith announced they would ask Secretary of State Lawerence Denney not to recognize the Governor’s veto because it allegedly violated the timeframe required by the Idaho Constitution.
The legal challenge to the Governor’s veto is grounded in Article IV, Section 10 of the Idaho Constitution, which provides:
“Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor to the legislature within five (5) days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it, unless the legislature shall, by adjournment, prevent its return, in which case it shall be filed, with his objections, in the office of the secretary of state within ten (10) days after such adjournment (Sundays excepted) or become a law.”
While the constitutional provision seems clear, the 1978 Idaho Supreme Court case Cenarrusa v. Andrus provided that the Governor has 10 days to veto a bill after it is presented to him, not 10 days after the end of the legislative session.
The Idaho Secretary of State’s office, relying on this case, has accepted the Governor’s veto as valid.
This legal challenge will be interesting to watch over the interim.
We greatly appreciate the efforts of city officials who asked their legislators to ensure that local government revenue sharing was protected in House Bill 67. Your help was instrumental in ensuring the bill was amended to protect revenue sharing. This kind of grassroots support is important in AIC’s legislative advocacy efforts.
AIC-Supported Transportation Funding Bills Become Law
Two important AIC-supported transportation funding bills were passed by the Legislature and will become law.
Senate Bill 1141 provides $52 million in state emergency funding for restoring roads and bridges damaged by spring floods in counties where the Governor has declared a disaster. This state emergency appropriation could leverage additional assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cities that receive assistance would be required to come up with a 10% local match, which may be met by in-kind work done by city employees and equipment. The bill was signed into law by Governor Otter and takes effect April 6, 2017.
Senate Bill 1206 will authorize up to $300 million in GARVEE bonds for I-84 between Nampa and Caldwell and other state transportation projects, as well as reauthorize the state surplus eliminator for two years with the revenue split 60% to the Idaho Transportation Department and 40% to local highway jurisdictions (cities, counties and highway districts). The bill was passed by the Legislature and will become law without the Governor’s signature. The bill will take effect July 1, 2017, with the exception of Section 13, which will take effect April 11, 2017.
The surplus eliminator revenue will be used for project grants to improve safety on roadways and pedestrian routes, enhance mobility, strengthen economic development, and repair bridges. Currently, it appears that about $1.3 million will be available in surplus eliminator revenue for local highway jurisdictions in state FY 2017.
Senate Bill 1206 also dedicates 1% of state sales tax revenue to state transportation projects to enhance capacity and mitigate congestion, which comes out of the state’s share of sales tax revenue and does not impact local government revenue sharing.
We extend our sincere appreciation for the dedicated work by Senate Transportation Committee Chair Bert Brackett of Three Creek, who is a tireless advocate for improving local roads. Sen. Chuck Winder of Boise played a pivotal role in the passage of Senate Bill 1206 and deserves special recognition for his efforts. We also recognize Rep. Clark Kauffman of Filer and Rep. Rick Youngblood of Nampa, who are also articulate advocates for local transportation needs.
We also greatly appreciate the effort by many city officials who called, emailed and texted their legislators to ask for their support for these important bills.
Legislature Approves AIC-Supported Procurement Bill
AIC-supported legislation to update the Local Government Purchasing Law passed by overwhelming margins and was signed into law by Governor Butch Otter. The bill will take effect July 1, 2017.
We extend our appreciation to Meridian Purchasing Manager Keith Watts and Ada County Procurement Manager Bob Perkins who worked closely with AIC and other stakeholders on this important legislation.
Senate Bill 1074 is sponsored by Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian. The bill makes the following changes to local government procurement laws.
· Increasing the project cost threshold for use of a licensed public works contractor from $10,000 to $50,000.
· Clarifying that payment and performance bonds are required for public works construction contracts equal to or greater than $50,000 and that the bonds must be presented to the local government before the contract is executed.
· Clarifying that the following purchases are exempt from competitive purchasing requirements, including procurement of: used equipment; goods for direct resale; travel and training; goods and services from Idaho Correctional Industries; repair of heavy equipment; software maintenance, support and licenses for existing systems or platforms that were bid in compliance with state law; utility services; and used equipment purchased at an auction if authorized by the governing board.
· Bidding thresholds for public works construction projects now begin at $50,000. Below $50,000 there is no requirement for competitive bidding. From $50,000 to $200,000 is the informal bidding method where the city must solicit at least three bids from licensed public works contractors selected by the city. Over $200,000 is the threshold for full competitive bidding under Category A or B.
· Bidding thresholds for services and equipment also now begin at $50,000. Below $50,000 there is no requirement for competitive bidding. From $50,000 to $100,000 is the informal bidding method where the city must solicit at least three bids from vendors selected by the city. Over $100,000 is the threshold for full competitive bidding.
· The bill provides a process for procurement through a Request for Proposals.
AIC-Supported Bill on City Treasurer Responsibilities Passed into Law
Legislation to update antiquated provisions of law relating to the City Treasurer passed the House and Senate by unanimous votes and was signed into law by Governor Otter.
House Bill 130 will take effect July 1, 2017.
We extend our appreciation to Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene and Rep. Paul Amador of Coeur d’Alene for their work on this important bill. We also appreciate the assistance from Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill of Rexburg, who carried the bill on the Senate floor.
Idaho Code 50-208 sets forth the responsibilities of the City Treasurer, which currently include:
· Accounting for debits and credits for each fund or appropriation;
· Giving a receipt to each person/entity that pays money to the city;
· Delivering a monthly report to the city council, under oath, including: the state of the treasury, a statement of all receipts and disbursements (with copies of all receipts), all warrants redeemed and paid, and all vouchers held by the treasurer. If the treasurer fails to make this report within 10 days of the end of the month, then the office is supposed to be vacated; and
· Keeping a record of outstanding bonds.
This code section is decades old and was in desperate need of updating.
House Bill 130 will give the treasurer 60 days after the end of the month to make the monthly report, and it will no longer be required to be a sworn statement.
The bill eliminates the requirements for a paper receipt to be issued for each transaction and for all paper receipts to be attached to the monthly report, because online payments and modern accounting systems allow all this information to be managed and delivered electronically.
The bill also clarifies that the quarterly treasurer’s report, a separate report that must be published or made available online, must be delivered at a city council meeting not more than 30 days after the end of each quarter.
The bill also provides that provisions of the Public Depository Law requiring a Treasurer’s Monthly Report only apply if there is not another code section that requires a treasurer’s report for the political subdivision (cities already have such a requirement, so it does not apply to cities).
House Bill 130 — Unchanged requirements:
· Maintain accounting consistent with budget adopted by governing board (track debits and credits)
· Provide monthly financial report to the city council - report account balances
· Produce quarterly treasurer’s report
House Bill 130 — Additional requirements:
· Monthly financial report included on regular council meeting agenda no more than 60 days after month-end
· Treasurer required to provide debit and credit details when required by mayor or council
· Publication of quarterly treasurer’s report can be satisfied by posting on city website
· Quarterly city treasurer’s report must be completed within 30 days of month-end
· Financial reports for all political subdivisions must be presented to the governing board
· Removal of a failing treasurer must be according to applicable provisions of law
House Bill 130 — Deletions from current statutory provisions:
· Treasurer not required to file financial reports with affidavit
· Treasurer not required to give receipt for every transaction (online transactions)
· Treasurer need not file copies of all receipts with monthly reports
· Treasurer not required to include statement of all receipts and disbursements
· Treasurer not automatically terminated if report is not filed within 10 days of month-end
· Phrasing modified and simplified as appropriate
Legislation to Modernize Idaho’s Antiquated Liquor Licensing Laws Fails to Pass
Legislation to modernize Idaho’s antiquated liquor licensing laws was introduced, but failed to get traction this session.
House Bill 255, sponsored by Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene, would have created a new tier of nontransferable liquor by the drink licenses for bona fide restaurants that would be authorized by city or county ordinance. Current liquor license holders would have received a 10% discount on purchases from state liquor stores as compensation for their investment in their liquor license.
AIC continues to support reform of Idaho’s liquor license system, but it is one of the most intractable policy issues cities face.
Bill on Local Option Building Code Exemption for Owner-Builders Fails to Clear Senate Committee
A bill that would have provided cities and counties authority to have local option exemptions from building codes for owner-builders of homes failed to pass out of the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee.
Senate Bill 1067 was sponsored by Kootenai County Commissioner Marc Eberlein and faced stiff opposition from AIC, the Idaho Building Code Board, the Idaho Association of Building Officials, the Idaho Fire Chiefs Association, the Idaho Building Contractors Association, the Idaho Association of Realtors, and the Idaho Bankers Association.
Excellent testimony was provided at the hearing by AIC Legislative Chair John Evans, Mayor of Garden City, and Patrick Sullivan, Director of Building Safety for the City of Nampa.
“I’m a residential real estate developer who has been in the industry since 1975,” said Mayor Evans. “If the city or county has building codes, then the purchaser of a home should be able to assume that a home was built to the code.”
Patrick Sullivan described how the City of Nampa works with owner-builders to make the process as straightforward as possible while still ensuring a well-built final product.
“We work with owner-builders who want to build their own home in Nampa and we try very hard to help these people through the plan review process and inspections to ensure that the building is safe and that there are not problems for future owners down the road,” he said.
We greatly appreciate the efforts of city officials who communicated with legislators on Senate Bill 1067.
Legislature Approves Bill on Regulation, Taxation of Vacation Rentals
Legislation that clarifies the authority of cities to regulate vacation rentals and provides for collection of sales and lodging taxes was passed into law. The bill will take effect January 1, 2018.
House Bill 216 was sponsored by the Idaho Lodging & Restaurant Association. The bill protects the rights of homeowners to rent their property, while ensuring that local governments may have reasonable regulations to protect the public health, safety and welfare as needed to preserve the integrity of residential neighborhoods. Vacation rentals must be classified as a residential land use for local zoning purposes. The bill also ensures that sales and lodging taxes are collected and remitted to state and local governments (including local option taxes).
AIC worked with the bill’s sponsor to help craft the language concerning local planning and zoning regulation and the AIC Board of Directors decided that the association would remain neutral on the bill. House Bill 216 was a significant improvement over previous versions of the bill, which had more sweeping preemption language.
Online Sales Tax Bill Fails to Advance, But Good News to Report Nonetheless
While a bill that would have moved Idaho toward collecting sales tax on purchases from online retailers did not advance this session, there was good news to report on that topic.
The State of Idaho negotiated an agreement with online retailer Amazon to begin collecting sales tax on Idahoans’ purchases beginning April 1, 2017. The agreement is expected to yield an additional $15 to $30 million in sales tax revenue annually, which would mean an increase of approximately $1.7 to $3.5 million annually to local government revenue sharing.
The only bill introduced this session on online sales tax collection—House Bill 155—would have expanded the definition of retailer engaged in business in this state to require certain online retailers to collect sales tax on transactions with Idaho residents. The bill failed to get a hearing in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee.
Rep. Lance Clow of Twin Falls, a Past President of AIC, deserves special recognition for his hard work and leadership on the issue of sales tax fairness.
Authorizing Legislation for Personal Delivery Devices Passed into Law
Self-driving delivery robots could be coming soon as the Idaho Legislature approved a bill this session allowing personal delivery devices to operate on sidewalks and crosswalks. House Bill 204, sponsored by Rep. Jason Monks of Meridian, will take effect July 1, 2017.
The bill defines a personal delivery device as an electrically powered device operated on sidewalks and crosswalks to transport property, that weighs less than 80 pounds excluding cargo, has a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, and may or may not be operated by a person. The bill provides that these devices are not classified as motor vehicles.
Cities, counties and highway districts would be allowed to adopt regulations for the safe operation of personal delivery devices.
The bill sets forth several requirements for operation of personal delivery devices, including:
· The device must obey all traffic and pedestrian control devices and signs,
· The device has all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances,
· The device must not unreasonably interfere with pedestrians or traffic,
· The device must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians on sidewalks and crosswalks,
· The device must include a plate identifying the name and contact information of the operator,
· The device must have a braking system allowing it to come to a controlled stop,
· No device may transport hazardous material or hazardous waste,
· No device may be operated on a roadway unless in a crosswalk, and
· No device may be operated on a sidewalk or crosswalk unless being actively controlled or monitored by a person.
Sanctuary Cities Bill Introduced, but Fails to Advance
One of the most controversial issues of the session involved legislation to penalize cities and counties that do not assist in the enforcement of immigration laws with loss of state revenue sharing funds.
Rep. Greg Chaney of Caldwell introduced two bills on the topic, but neither bill was scheduled for a hearing before the House State Affairs Committee.
While Idaho does not currently have any sanctuary cities or counties, Chaney said that the legislation was necessary to prevent the state from becoming a magnet for immigrants seeking to avoid prosecution or deportation for criminal offenses.
The bill drew considerable opposition from a diverse coalition including AIC, the Idaho ACLU, immigration advocates, and the agricultural industry.
Capital Investment Property Tax Exemption Broadened to Permit Use in Rural Counties
Legislation that would expand the use of a popular economic development incentive passed the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Otter.
House Bill 235 is sponsored by Rep. Mike Moyle of Star and broadens the property tax exemption under Idaho Code 63-602NN granted by county commissioners for capital investment. County commissioners must set the minimum level of investment required for a project to qualify for the exemption by ordinance, with the minimum level of investment at $500,000. The minimum level of investment is currently set at $3 million, which makes it difficult for rural counties to take advantage of the exemption.
The maximum term of the exemption would remain at five years. The project must be a nonretail commercial or industrial project, and the investment must bring significant economic benefits to the county. The bill also adds a required public meeting with the county commissioners and affected local government entities to discuss the proposal.
House Bill 235 will take effect July 1, 2017.
Foregone Levy Legislation Passed into Law
Legislation that would allow local governments to disclaim foregone property tax levying authority passed into law over AIC’s objections.
House Bill 207, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moyle of Star, would permit cities, counties and other non-school taxing districts to disclaim all or part of their foregone levying authority from a single fiscal year by passing a resolution. The bill takes effect July 1, 2017.
The local government must provide notice of its intent to do so, hold a public hearing (which may be in conjunction with the annual budget hearing), and the resolution must be passed at the annual budget hearing.
Proponents of the bill argued that it gives local governments greater flexibility to protect taxpayers from future property tax increases.
AIC’s perspective is that Idaho’s 3% Cap on local government property tax revenues strikes the right balance in protecting the interests of taxpayers and foregone levying authority has been an integral part of the 3% Cap since its inception.
The idea behind foregone levying authority is that local governments that make conscious decisions to be frugal with their property tax budgets shouldn’t be penalized for their frugality: the levying authority that remains unused accumulates and can be included in future property tax levies. The current system works well and ensures that local governments don’t have to levy the maximum every year to protect their revenue base in the future.
Anybody who has seen city budgeting in action knows that adequately funding police and fire protection, streets, parks, libraries and other tax supported services and infrastructure is hard enough without having to cope with arbitrary budgeting and levying restrictions imposed by previous city councils.
It is very hard to predict the challenges that will confront a city in the future.
City officials in Rexburg, Teton, Sugar City and Idaho Falls in the early 1970s would have been hard pressed to imagine the horrible destruction—totaling over $8 billion in today’s dollars—that came in the wake of the Teton Dam disaster.
Several cities, including Ammon, Meridian, Kuna, Hayden, and Eagle saw intense periods of growth over the last two decades, leading to an exponential increase in demand for city services and infrastructure.
The City of Heyburn lost its major employer, a Simplot potato processing plant with 650 jobs, in 2002.
As a city elected official you owe it to your successors in office to ensure that they have maximum flexibility to meet the challenges they face. You would expect nothing less from those who preceded you in office.
Bill Restoring Current Practice on Attorney Fees Passed into Law
One of the major issues the Legislature faced this session involved clarifying state law on how courts are to award attorney fees to the winner of a civil case.
Since 1979, Idaho’s state courts have operated under a rule that attorney fees are awarded only if a case is brought, pursued or defended frivolously, unreasonably or without legal foundation. That rule has served Idaho well for over 30 years, but was struck down by the Idaho Supreme Court in Hoffer v. Shappard in December 2016.
The court’s ruling had a delayed implementation to allow the Legislature to address the issue this session. The chairs of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Rep. Lynn Luker of Boise and Sen. Patti Anne Lodge of Huston, co-sponsored a bill to return Idaho’s law on awarding attorney fees to the pre-Hoffer standard.
House Bill 97 will take effect March 1, 2017.
Bill Prohibiting Using Public Funds to Influence Elections Dies in Senate State Affairs Committee
Rep. Jason Monks of Meridian sponsored three bills this session—House Bills 134, 189 and 270—aimed at expressly prohibiting using public funds to influence local candidate, bond and levy elections.
The final bill, House Bill 270, died in the Senate State Affairs Committee after passing the House by a wide margin.
Idaho law doesn’t currently have an express prohibition on using public funds to influence local elections, but AIC, as well as local government attorneys and bond counsel have long advised that it is improper to use public funds to urge citizens to vote for or against a candidate or measure on the ballot.
The challenge that Rep. Monks faced in drafting his legislation is that local governments often provide objective information to voters to help them understand bonds, levies and other ballot questions that sometimes receive very little media attention.
Drawing the line between what is objective information and what is advocacy is very difficult and is often influenced by a person’s political perspective.
AIC recognizes the critical role local governments play in providing necessary information to help voters make informed decisions on school bond and levy elections, city revenue bonds, and other important ballot questions.
AIC-Supported Justice Reinvestment Reform Bill Passed into Law
A bill that will strengthen Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment laws by providing the parole commission with extra flexibility to deal with parole violators passed the House and Senate unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Otter.
Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) laws were enacted in 2014 with the goal of moving nonviolent offenders out of prison and into community-based supervision programs, which helped these offenders get better substance abuse and mental health treatment, as well as ensure a more sustainable corrections system without building new prisons. Until JRI, Idaho had very high rates of incarceration for nonviolent offenders relative to other states.
JRI has proven successful in reducing Idaho’s prison costs, but there have been unintended consequences including a very concerning increase in violent crimes committed by parolees who remain on parole despite drug or other violations.
A tragic example involves Marco Romero who was on parole after serving time for two charges of possession of a controlled substance and one charge of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death. He had several prior convictions for drug charges.
Last November, Romero opened fire inside a Meridian apartment filled with his family and friends, shooting a man and a woman. He carjacked an 89-year old woman two days later, and police tracked him to the Central Rim neighborhood, where he was killed in a gun battle after tragically shooting two police officers and a K-9. The officers survived, but the K-9 died.
Romero remained on parole after testing positive for methamphetamine, which is considered a technical parole violation.
Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, Chair of the Senate Judiciary & Rules Committee and Rep. Lynn Luker, Chair of the House Judiciary, Rules & Administration Committee worked together over the interim on legislation to strengthen Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment laws.
Sen. Lodge noted the changes proposed by Senate Bill 1113 will “increase public safety and strengthen accountability for offenders.”
The bill will add two commissioners to the Idaho Commission of Pardons & Parole and allow two commissioners to meet and decide parole violations; these changes should help expedite decisions on parole violations.
The bill also provides that the swift, certain and graduated sanctions for parole violators may be used by parole officers without having a hearing. Such sanctions could include: community service, increased reporting, curfews, substance use assessments, monitoring or treatment, cognitive behavioral treatment, and educational or vocational skills education, among others.
The state’s policy “to focus prison space on those who commit the most serious offenses or who have the highest likelihood of offending in the future” is clearly articulated in the legislation.
The bill also provides the parole commission with complete discretion to decide individual cases, considering the current risk assessment, criminal history, program participation, compliance and completion, institutional misconduct and other individual characteristics related to the likelihood of the person to reoffend in the future when making parole decisions.
The bill eliminates the current 90 and 180-day incarceration framework for first and second parole violations and allows the commission to impose sanctions at any time up to and including revocation of parole and returning the offender to state custody.
Senate Bill 1113 will take effect July 1, 2017.
State Purchase of HP Facility Sparks Discussion of Impacts on Property Tax Budgets
One of the major surprises of the session was the news that the State of Idaho was in negotiations to purchase the 200 acre Hewlett-Packard campus in west Boise for $110 million. The campus includes eight buildings with over 1.3 million square feet of office space, which will house the State Tax Commission and other state agencies.
Once the state purchases the HP facility it will come off the property tax rolls because state owned property is exempt from taxation. This led Rep. Janet Trujillo of Idaho Falls to sponsor legislation that would require the City of Boise, Ada County, Ada County Highway District, and other taxing districts to reduce their property tax levying capacity to reflect the exemption and prevent a shift in property tax burden to other taxpayers.
House Bill 283 passed the House by a wide margin, but failed to get a hearing in the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee.
AIC and the Idaho Association of Counties strongly opposed House Bill 283 because even though the HP facility will come off the tax rolls, the taxing districts must still provide police, fire protection, streets and other vital local services.
House Judiciary Committee Kills Rule of 80 for Emergency Dispatchers Bill
A bill sponsored by the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections and Idaho Association of Counties that would change juvenile detention and probation officers, misdemeanor probation officers and emergency dispatchers to Rule of 80 for PERSI retirement purposes was killed by the House Judiciary, Rules & Administration Committee.
The intent of House Bill 21 was to help public safety agencies better recruit and retain employees. The proposal would have increased employer PERSI contributions from 11.32% to 11.66% and employee contributions from 6.79% to 8.36%.
Otter’s Proposal to Cut Unemployment Insurance Taxes Failed to Pass
Governor Otter’s proposal to cut unemployment insurance taxes for Idaho employers got caught up in an end of session battle between the House and Senate and was defeated.
Otter highlighted the proposal during his State of the State Address, which would reduce unemployment insurance tax payments for most Idaho employers by 30%, saving them $46 million next year.
The state unemployment trust fund is currently in a strong position and is expected to grow to nearly $900 million over the next three years.
Senate Bill 1195 passed the Senate by a vote of 34-1-0, but was sent to the House amending order to add personal and corporate income tax relief provisions that have long been a priority for House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star. The House passed the amended bill 53-17-0.
The bill was then returned to the Senate for a final vote on whether the body concurs with the amendments made in the House. In one of the last votes of the session, the Senate overwhelmingly rejected the bill by a vote of 5-29-1.
Sen. Steve Vick of Dalton Gardens described the House’s hijacking of the bill as “unfortunate.” “Our employers are going to end up paying more unemployment tax than they should because of the games that were played with this bill.”
It is likely that this issue will surface again in the 2018 legislative session.
Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill Vetoed by Governor
Legislation to reform civil asset forfeiture passed the House and Senate unanimously, but was vetoed by Governor Otter. House Bill 202 was sponsored by Rep. Steven Harris of Meridian and Rep. Ilana Rubel of Boise.
The bill would have made several changes to Idaho’s civil asset forfeiture laws, including:
Vehicles would not be subject to forfeiture for charges of possession of a controlled substance, they must be used in connection with trafficking offenses or comprise ill-gotten gains;
Property that is merely in proximity to a controlled substance is not subject to forfeiture without a meaningful connection to the crime;
Mere presence of money is not sufficient cause for a seizure or forfeiture;
Creating a right of replevin of property while proceedings are pending provided the owners can show necessity and security;
Courts must determine whether a property forfeiture is proportionate to the crime alleged;
Innocent owners are absolved of having to pay the state’s or law enforcement agency’s costs associated with the seizure;
Law enforcement may not bypass the disposition procedures and retain property without judicial approval; and
Reporting requirements regarding forfeited property are instituted.
Governor Otter called the bill “a classic case of a solution in search of a problem” and said that “compelling opposition from law enforcement and the absence of any benefit to law abiding citizens” led to his veto.
“…It is my view that it is right and proper for drug dealers to have a healthy fear of losing their personal assets if they are caught breaking the law,” Otter said.
Bill to Require Certification of Emergency Dispatchers Passed into Law
A bill sponsored by the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association that would require emergency dispatchers hired after July 1, 2017 to be certified by the Idaho Peace Officer Standards & Training Council (POST) within 18 months of employment passed the Legislature and was signed into law by the Governor.
Senate Bill 1083 will take effect July 1, 2017.
Under Senate Bill 1083, dispatchers employed between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2017 must be POST certified by January 1, 2019. Dispatchers who were employed prior to July 1, 2012 may be required to complete POST certification at the discretion of their employer.
The training could be obtained online or through a POST Basic Dispatch Academy.